Dating My Best Friend

Eight years ago, during our freshman year at Shorter College, Kaitlin and I spent Easter weekend at her family’s house. Originally, more of our friends were supposed to be able to make it, but couldn’t. So, it ended up being just the two of us. We saw “Water Horse” at one of the local theaters that Good Friday, March 21st, and to a park the day after, where we had a picnic and tried to blow all the seeds off of some dandelions.

I loved all my friends (and still do), but secretly I wasn’t disappointed when I found out no one else could make it. I just really wanted to get to know Kaitlin more. Something about her captivated me (and still does today, of course).

I had no idea at the time, but she felt the same way.

We didn’t start “dating” officially until exactly one month later on April 21st, but I still consider the time we spent that weekend as our “first dates”. We may have not been spending time as boyfriend & girlfriend, but were excited about getting to know each other as best friends.

I think sometimes, it’s easy to forget that your spouse or significant other is also your best friend. It’s a vital part of a relationship, though. Everyone knows what Paul says about marriage in his letter to the church in Corinth and Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5), but what about Solomon’s words in the Song of Songs?

“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” – Song of Songs 5:16

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride…” – Song of Songs 4:9

In Song of Songs, perhaps the best illustration of intimacy and romance in a marriage that can be found in the Bible, the couple refer to one another not only as lover, but as friend. We also see this in Genesis, though it’s not as obvious.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” – Genesis 4:1

The word “knew” is translated from the Semitic word jadac. You could just read past that word and assume it’s a family-safe way of translating sexual intercourse (like I thought for a while), but in doing so, you rob the text of its true meaning. The language the writers used at the time actually defined the union of marriage the same way they defined “knowledge”. How profound is that?

If I am to truly love Kaitlin, I have to know her, and truly invest myself in getting to know her more every day. The more I know her, the more I am equipped to make her feel the most loved she’s ever felt. In the adventure of learning about each other lies the friendship of marriage. One of the coolest activities we’ve shared as a couple is figuring out our love languages through Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. By learning Kaitlin’s top love languages, I know how to communicate love to her in ways that give her the most joy.

The friendship of marriage motivates us to work through conflict in ways that strengthen our relationship instead of harm it. We support each other, as best friends do, when one of us may be going through tough times. We have in each other a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and an ever-available warm embrace.

We joke, we laugh, we celebrate, together.

Being best friends is just the best.

Dating and romance doesn’t always look exactly the same before and after “I do”, but it’s still about growing in our friendship and learning about each other. When I ask her out on dates now that we’ve been married for five whole years, it is out of that same desire that began eight years ago. She captivates me in a way that makes me want to get to know her more an more.

Through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer.

In all things.

She’s my very best friend.

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(taken March 21st, 2008)

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2015

2015 started out like any other year ought to:

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With a selfie (and a photobomb). Kaitlin and I watched the peach as it dropped with some friends, and snapped a photo when the new year came. 2015 began, and proved to be a year of adventure, change, and blessings.

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Two days later, on January 3rd, I visited my dad on his birthday. 2015 would be my first full year without him, and though he’d been gone for nearly a year at the time, I hadn’t really even really begun grieving. I have trouble allowing myself to do that, and though I made it a new years resolution to do so, it never really happened. It’ll remain a goal of mine for 2016.

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Soon afterwards, I marked an item off my bucket list: finally beating “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. That game is quite easily the greatest video game in its genre of all time, perhaps second only to “A Link to the Past.” Anyway, that’s enough geek for one post.

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Our family soon grew by a few hands when I (with the help and generosity of our friends at Cobblestone Crossing School of Horsemanship) was able to give Kaitlin a baby horse for Valentine’s Day. The two had quite an amazing bond, and raising a baby had always been a dream of Kaitlin’s. It’s amazing to see how far they have come in their relationship since then!

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The next day, she had her first lesson with him. We named him Koda Bear.

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Then, we set off for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for our Valentine’s Day retreat! Nothing beats a dinner at the Old Mill and a few days to just relax and have fun together.

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While I was there, I gave someone a fake parking ticket. They deserved it. To see more of my parking ticket victims, search the tag #parkingticketsfromzack on Instagram.

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It also snowed in February, and we made the best snowman in our history of snowman making together. It doesn’t snow often in Rome, GA, but you can tell it wasn’t our first rodeo.

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Meanwhile, as a middle school teacher, I discovered how fun writing tests could be. Also, I learned that middle school kids nowadays don’t know who Keanu Reeves is. They better watch out, though. That guy knows kung-fu.

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In March, I received my acceptance letter from Shorter University’s School of Nursing. I talked a whole lot more about my journey to making nursing my career in a blog post titled “Finding God’s Will. Needless to say, this marked a turning point in my life.

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We found this baby squirrel outside, after a neighborhood cat killed its mother. We nursed it back to help and was able to take it to a friend who rehabilitated it! As far as we know, it was released back into the wild a healthy squirrel.

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On April 21st, we celebrated 7 years of being a couple! It’s amazing when I think about being together that long. That’s over a fourth of our lifetime spent on this God-written love journey. I’m a lucky man.

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Four days later, my brother-in-law married his best friend (who happens to be the sister of one of my fraternity brothers from college. Small world!), and we (Kaitlin and I) got to be apart of the ceremony.

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Immediately afterwards, I broke my wrist in a fall at the church. Which was a big wake-up call for me, honestly. It was my second fracture in two years, and though my first was not due to my own actions, I still had to realize that I’m not invincible. Never having a serious injury as a child or adolescent, I never really had to think about the possibility of my actions leading to serious harm.

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For my birthday, Kaitlin took me geocaching and to a Braves game! She’s the best.

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I saw my little brother walk for his high school graduation. And now he’s in college. Life happens so fast! 1997 doesn’t seem too long ago, and I can vividly remember the day my father told me I was going to have another little brother.

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Kaitlin and I traveled to South Carolina to our friends wedding.

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I began working at Starbucks, solidifying my physiological dependence on caffeine, and introducing me to a phenomenal company and crew. I am lucky to work here.

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Also in June, I baked my last batch of bread for Rome, Ga’s Great Harvest Bread Company. The company was being sold and would no longer be a Great Harvest franchise. I never worked anywhere as long as I had worked at the bakery, and I owe a considerable amount of my growth as an employee and a person to my time there. Nothing compares to making bread from scratch, and I continue to do so in my home from time to time.

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On June 18th, our marriage turned four years old! We weren’t able to be together that day, but it was special nonetheless. Marriage has blessed my life more than anything I have experienced since receiving my salvation in 2008. God has taught me more about myself and about love through the covenant of marriage that I can put to words. I love this girl! I’m grateful I get to grow old and do life with her. Every moment is meaningful.

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Every July 4th, Kaitlin’s family tries to have a beach trip to their new retirement home in Yulee, Florida (about 15 minutes from Amelia Island).

Later in the summer, I took Kaitlin to Charleston for a birthday getaway trip, where we enjoyed restful time at the beach, explored Market Street, went on a sunset kayaking tour, and ate some amazing food. It was a fun-packed time, for sure!

When August hit and nursing school officially started, life began to change. Facial hair disappeared. Exams covered countless chapters of material. But I still enjoyed (and continue to) knowing I was on a path that God designed me for. In the end, I was working hard and studying not for myself, but for Him and for His people that I would soon be serving with a new set of skills.

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Awkward-faced lunch break selfies became the new thing.

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My mother turned 29 again! So I took this picture of her and my brother. He made that face on purpose.

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I received my white coat, which I never actually wear. I do love and appreciate the symbolism of it, though.

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We joined Kingdom Valenia at Going Caching 2015, a geocaching mega event.

We took a trip to see Amicalola Falls while the leaves were changing color. Gorgeous.

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All-nighters with notes spread all over our living room also became the new thing.

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Thanksgiving and Christmas brought family together. Not being able to see them much due to school and work made it extra-special this year.

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2015 ended the way it started: a selfie. We bought a selfie-stick and used it to take a family picture with all our animals for the Christmas card. It was a greater challenge than we expected, but we eventually got it. Sorta.

Finding God’s Will

I like to journal as a means of communicating to God my prayers, my questions, my praises, and my frustrations. One question that I have asked God over and over is a classic: “What is Your will for My Life?” While reading through my journal, I came across this entry dated February 2nd, 2015:

Maybe I am asking the wrong questions. I ask You what Your will is for my life, but I already know that. Your will is for me to make Your name greatly known to the ends of the Earth and back. The real question I (maybe) should be asking is “what do I desire to do?” Not as a selfish question at all. Just as a way to ask myself what desire you placed in my heart. I can do Your will no matter what I do, but will I be serving with a divinely established passion for the work set before me? LORD, as I try to discern what to do, search my heart and get rid of any selfish motives or ideas. Show me the passion and desire that was given to me by you.

At the time, I had several equally appealing paths before me. I was finishing pre-requisites in my pursuit of a BSN. I was also a GACE certified middle grades teacher at the Montessori School of Rome, where I was pretty much promised a future in teaching if I desired. If I wasn’t torn enough, a friend of mine offered to sell me her business (a very successful business, of which I was very familiar with and could confidently run).

Three roads diverged in a Roman road.

As my journal entry illustrates, I stopped asking God what His will was and started searching within myself. God placed desire and joy in every one of us. The pursuit of joy is not a bad thing! We just have to place our ultimate joy in Him. It didn’t take very long for me to find out which road I was meant to take.

My desire to serve in healthcare started long ago, when I attended a medical mission trip to Mexico. At the time, I was studying as a pre-med major at Shorter College. Upon graduation, I applied for medical school. Two years in a row, I got to the interview stage, but was either rejected or wait-listed both times.

During my second interview cycle, my Dad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. As I spent the last 8 months of his life in hospital rooms and, eventually, with hospice nurses at my parent’s home, I realized I might have been pursuing the wrong profession. Physicians are amazing, important, and I have the up-most respect for them, but I hardly ever saw one at the bedside in the hospital.

I did, however, spend a lot of time around nurses. It was the nurses that took care of my dad at the bedside, sometimes around-the-clock. It was a nurse that put a smile on his face when he needed one. It was a nurse that he called when he needed help or had a question about his treatment.

It was a nurse that asked him about his family in the recovery room and not only listened to his stories, but asked if she could come to his patient room to meet us. That moment helped him hold on more than she’ll ever know. She probably knew he wasn’t going to make it, but she treated him like a person who mattered. He lit up introducing her to us all, and showing her pictures. He had a good time, and he needed that.

Those experiences showed me the importance of the role the nurse plays, and that if I desired to be at the bedside, nursing was a profession I should consider. But I wasn’t ready to commit just yet. After my father died, I decided to take a year off to figure things out. I got a job teaching middle school students and became certified to teach math and science in Georgia.

Later, in the fall, my wife, inspired by a sermon by our pastor at West Rome*, asked herself (and later me): Why not now? If God might be leading me to a career in nursing, why not pursue it now?

Can I just take a moment to say that I am married to such a Godly woman, and I don’t feel I deserve her? She tends to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit than I am, and I’m grateful God let me have her as my wife and help-meet. It’s moments like these that help me realize what God meant when he said “its not good for man to be alone.”

Being a staff member at Shorter University, she used her free time to look into everything it would take for me to apply to their nursing program. As fate would have it, all the prerequisites I didn’t complete in my first bachelor’s degree were offered the following semester, could be registered in a schedule together, without conflicts, at times that still allowed me to keep my teaching job. If that’s not proof of a living God, I don’t know what is. She helped me register and I was enrolled as a pre-nursing major within a week.

Yet despite all this, I was still asking God a few months later what His will is for my life.

Really?

I think maybe we, as Christians, make that question too complicated. At times, I know I was even obsessed with knowing the answer. I don’t think it’s supposed to be so hard. Perhaps, God has already equipped each and every one of us with the knowledge, desire, and gifting to choose the road designed for us, if we’ll just see it for what it is.

Maybe you’re asking God the same question I did.

So, my question for you is this:

What desires has God placed in your heart? What do you love to do? What are your passions? What have you been through that gives you a venue or opportunity to serve people?

Chances are, the answers to those questions are the key to finding out what God would love for you to be a part of.

I know that certainly was the case for me. With God’s help, I can do just about anything I set my mind to, but it was important for me to ask myself what I like to do. God cares about what I like to do. God made me to like what I like to do.

I’m excited to be where God designed me to be. I love people, and I have a strong desire to serve them at the bedside. And even though nursing is certainly not always a glamorous profession, perhaps God saw me through some tough times so that I could help shine a light on others through theirs, using my story as a testimony of His goodness.

Whatever is ahead, I am ready and equipped.

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* Coincidentally, my Church’s mission statement is “Helping people find and follow God’s plan for their lives.”

Going to the Chapel

The Camp Pinnacle Chapel
(Photo Courtesy Kaitlin Rachel Wood)

Kaitlin sent me this photo last Saturday. It was my first glance at the chapel where were are getting married. My immediate thoughts were that it was perfect. So perfect. It seemed surreal, at that moment, that we are getting married. It’s really really exciting, but also really surreal. It’s something we’ve been waiting for and working towards for a long time, and it’s actually happening. The chapel is booked, along with the reception area next to the lake. The rooms are booked for us to stay in the night of the rehearsal dinner. The honeymoon is booked. I have a solid job to provide with. It’s happening. It’s really happening. Its so exciting!! I could cry just thinking about it.

We drove up the following Monday to see everything in person. Y’all, this chapel really is the most beautiful and perfect in the world. I don’t care where you have been, there is no place I’d rather get married. The whole campus is bursting at the seams with God’s love and spirit. It’s so evident everywhere. The chapel looks so amazing. And the whole time, I couldn’t help fast-fowarding to June. The next time I see it might be the day before the wedding. So cool and surreal. The empty (yet still elegant) chapel will soon be full of people and joy (and, inevitably, stress and probably a little chaos, but still!).
These pews will be filled with loved ones
She’ll be walking down the aisle, beautiful as ever, in white
That’s my bride! She got her hair done while we were up there and it looked so gorgeous (though, it is impossible to mess up her naturally beautiful hair). It was another little piece of what the wedding would be like (that I was surprised to be able to preview, but hey, I’m not complaining!). I can’t wait to stand in front and wait for her to walk down that aisle. I’ll be so nervous and excited and happy.
God instituted and ordained this and I can’t wait for him to lead our wedding and our marriage. I know it’s going to be perfect. This is happening! It’s really happening. =]
in His grip,
Zack

Our Engagement Story

CAUTION: The following blog post may contain content that is mushy and/or lovey-dovey.

So as I sat on a futon in Kaitlin’s apartment, typing that last blog after my quiet time, I felt her head rest on my shoulder while she read her book. In that moment, I experienced rest. It was quiet and we were just sitting and not really doing anything important except relaxing and enjoy eachother’s company. It felt warm and peaceful and there was this closeness to her and to God that I had needed all weekend. I continued with a great big smile on my face and pressed “publish,” posting not only my first blog of the year, but also my first since last September. At that point I realized that I clearly left out some pretty big updates that are very blog worthy, namely that the beautiful face that rested on my shoulder belonged to the woman that I am now engaged to be married to, and have been since November 5th, 2010. I just cannot post another blog without sharing the story of one of the happiest days of my life.
It was the day before the Zeta Tau Alpha semi-formal, and I had asked her earlier that week if she wanted to have movie date or something. Not like a movie theatre date, because nothing good was out. A redbox movie date, so we could just relax on the couch and watch something together and pop some popcorn that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. That kind of movie date. It didn’t really matter, though, because I secretly just asked her that so that she would keep the night open and not plan anything else. I didn’t want her to expect anything suspicious.
I had been looking at rings for a while and I knew the one I wanted to get. I didn’t want to get it too far in advance, though, because (1) I tend to be impatient and I would probably get too excited and spontaneously propose to her, and (2) I was paranoid I would lose it. Luckily, she wanted to nap after class so I picked it up while she was sleeping. It was also a good thing that she wanted to nap because I was really nervous. Excited, but nervous. Not nervous in an omg-i-hope-she-says-yes sorta way. Nervous as in lots of butterflies in my stomach and in a i-hope-i-do-this-perfect sorta way. In a this-is-really-happening kind of way.
She woke up from her nap later that afternoon and, with the ring tucked in my pocket, I cooked her favorite meal – chicken parmigiana. Then I asked her if she wanted to go to Berry and have a bible study in Frost Chapel and share a dance with me. She said yes (which was a good sign, right?). After we drove into the campus, we met some deer on the road to Mountain Campus, so I pulled over so we could see them. Partially because I wanted to see them and try to touch them, but mostly to stall because I was nervous.
When we arrived, there was a man standing outside the chapel and I thought, “Great… way to ruin everything, sir!” I was kidding. Sorta. So Kaitlin suggested that we just do our bible study on the stone wall, because there was probably something going on in the chapel. I knew there couldn’t be, because I called beforehand. So I gently insisted that we go at least look in the chapel window to make sure no one was using it. As we were walking towards the chapel door, the man who was standing to the side came towards us and said:
“Hey, my brother is proposing to his girlfriend in the back room, so if you don’t mind, just please don’t go in there.”
“Oh! Okay! Is it okay if we go in the chapel?” I asked, trying to soak all the irony in.
“Yeah! That’s totally fine,” he said.
The room he was talking about was separated from the main chapel. He was free to steal my idea in peace as long as he stayed over there. Just kidding. Sorta. Anyway, so we went inside and sat down in the pew and opened our devotional to the chapter we left off on last time. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t think I focused very well, if at all, on the devotional. I was too busy practicing in my mind what I was going to say and how I was going to do this.
When we had finished, I stood up, reached out my hand, and, smiling excitedly, asked her, “Would you like to dance?”
“Yes,” she replied, also smiling.
So I held her close and we danced without music for a few minutes, and I looked her in the eyes, telling her how wonderful and beautiful she is, how much she means to me, and how thankful I am to have her. Then, with my heart beating so fast that I’m surprised I didn’t pass out or something, I knelt to one knee, took the ring out of my pocket (which was velcro, by the way, so it echoed loudly off the walls of the chapel as I opened it) and asked her if she would marry me. After the initial shock wore off, she finally said “YES!” I stood up and we held each other tightly in our arms for a while before making our way back to the car.
And now, almost two months later, we have a date and a time and a venue – June 18th, 2011, 2pm, at Camp Pinnacle in Clayton, Georgia. I could not be more happier or excited, and I can’t wait for us to begin our happily ever after.

in His grip,
Zack